There was a time when African-American perspectives or the contributions of women in history or social science education would have been considered radical and uncouth.
Now it’s hard to imagine how any self-respecting instructor could get away with skipping the civil rights movement or the fight for women’s suffrage. In truth, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement will likely be the next struggle for equality to enter the mainstream. The ignorant rhetoric of fear is already losing mass appeal, and will eventually fade into just another embarrassing chapter of our history to remember and learn from.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 48 into law, also known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act. The bill mandates the inclusion of the LGBT community contributions in social sciences curricula.
However, a strong backlash from conservatives and religious organizations is already campaigning to gather signatures to put a repeal on the ballot. If not for the California Proposition 8 debacle, I would welcome them to try and place my trust in California’s sensible voters. But that embarrassing setback exposed the susceptibility of misguided people to the “save our children from being taught homosexuality in schools” campaign.
Apparently any kind of acceptance of the LGBT community will cause our children to become homosexual. This idea is misguided, offensive and nonsensical. Teaching students about the history and contributions of the LGBT community will not encourage them to become homosexual. Hysterical fear-mongering aside, the classroom is the last place students are likely to form their views on sexuality. Teaching students about the LGBT movement is about as likely to turn them gay as learning about the civil rights movement is to change their race or discussing women’s rights is to switch their gender.
But discussing the facts and history behind current politics and debate will help young people put all the confusing rhetoric bombarding them outside of school into perspective, and perhaps better understand the struggles of their classmates and peers.
“By signing SB 48 today, California’s classrooms, textbooks and instructional materials will all become pro-homosexual promotion tools,” Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder and chairman of Traditional Values Coalition, said. These people believe the perspectives and events of a movement cannot be discussed, only indoctrinated. If everything included in history textbooks was an attempt at advocacy, our young people would be quite confused.
Objectors also claim talking about sexual orientation shouldn’t be necessary when teaching history. César Chávez and Rosa Parks are not known for their private heterosexual acts. While there is certainly no need to discuss what historical figures did in their bedrooms, it makes perfect sense to talk about a movement in terms of the qualities that make it unique. It would be difficult to understand the significance of a figure such as Harvey Milk without mentioning his involvement in the gay community, much the same way it wouldn’t serve to leave out the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was black when describing his accomplishments for the civil rights movement.
What the FAIR Act will do, however, is discourage harassment of openly homosexual students in our schools. It will promote awareness of a poorly understood minority group. And it will provide a richer, more accurate depiction of our history, present and future for young people confused by the emotional and divisive issue.
Recognition of LGBT contributions and study of sexual orientation issues is gaining ground in higher education as well. As of 2009, San Diego State became the second California State University to include an LGBT Studies minor. Universities around the nation are beginning to follow this trend.
One important point I would make, however, is that it is always best to avoid excessive segregation. A separate LGBT studies program is a good idea, but specific classes based around the movement should not be substituted for inclusion of that information in mainstream social sciences courses. The figures, events and deeper issues of the movement should be discussed as a piece of a larger story rather than an isolated thread. This more complete understanding of our past and present will only help us reach a more tolerant future.
—Randy Wilde is an international security and conflict resolution senior.
—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.